Commerce City, Colorado
Products: Teas infused with THC and CBD
Co-founders Justin Singer and Jeremy Goldstein are creating an unprecedented line of cannabis-infused teas for consumers who want marijuana's medical benefits without the high.
It all started when Singer's grandmother needed help managing chronic pain. "She asked if there was anything Justin could provide from the marijuana world," Goldstein recalls. But there was one stipulation: Grandma didn't want to smoke.
The only product Singer could find was an edible, a brownie, to be precise -- but the dosage was way too high, and so was the sugar content, considering Singer's grandmother is a diabetic.
"We got really excited when we started thinking about the holes and opportunities in the edibles market," Goldstein says. He and Singer wanted to create a whole new breed of "functional edibles" -- products designed to alleviate pain without getting customers high, and without relying on unhealthy additives such as sugar.
The duo brainstormed tea as a launch product. There was one big problem, though, with the concept. "THC is fat-soluble," Goldstein explains. Fat and water don't mix. "We knew if we could solve the problem of fat solubility, we could open up the edible market to healthier options," adds Goldstein.
The first step, then, was developing a manufacturing process capable of solubilizing THC and CBD extract oils, the two most popular cannabinoids. "Our process takes about five days," says Keith Woelfel, Stillwater's head of manufacturing and product development. After starting with distilled oil refined to a very high potency level, "We add emulsifier, we homogenize, and then we go through a drying process," Woelfel says.
The output is granulated into a powder the company packages and sells as Ripple Dissolvable THC, alongside a CBD powder of the same name. As Goldstein puts it, "Ripple powers everything we do."
The flagship brand is Stillwater Tea. Dried granules of THC and CBD are packaged with tea leaves into tea sticks that can be dropped into hot water, and seeped until desired flavor is achieved.
Because Stillwater Brands is "adamant about getting a very consistent experience to the consumer," as Goldstein puts it, the company uses specialty manufacturing equipment that it custom builds in-house. The equipment "drives the accuracy of the dosing we want to deliver to consumers," Woelfel says, noting that products are always triple tested for THC content.
In 2016 -- after engaging in two years of product development -- Stillwater Brands placed three flavors of tea on the market: black, green, and herbal mint. Based on market research, Goldstein says, "They're the three most popular flavors." Plus the caffeine content varies, giving customers consumption options throughout the day.
Stillwater Brands sources organic teas from a third-generation family farm in India. "It's high-quality, and they do a custom pick just for us," says Goldstein.
All of the THC and CBD oil is local, of course, because, legally, it has to be. "We make sure we're working with farms producing the best products that are free from pesticides," Goldstein adds.
In Colorado, the maximum recreational dose allowed for edibles is 10 milligrams. But when it comes to functional edibles, that dose might be too high for Stillwater Brands consumers. Hence, the company's inaugural product line -- Stillwater Tea -- is a micro-dose beverage, with 2.2 milligrams each of THC and CBD.
Anticipating demand for a full-dose product, Goldstein and Singer also introduced Whitewater Tea, which is just like Stillwater Tea, but with a higher, 10-milligram dose of cannabinoids. They also sell two varieties of THC-infused Clockwork Coffee.
Stillwater Brands products are sold in about 160 Colorado dispensaries, up from 25 at the beginning of the year. "We only operate on the recreational side," Goldstein notes.
And the company only operates in Colorado; federal interstate commerce laws currently bar Goldstein and Singer from shipping their teas across state lines.
But that's fine: "There's a lot more growth to do further penetrating the Colorado market," Goldstein points out. He and Singer want to continue developing functional edibles by expanding on their current offerings.
Challenges: Remember that multi-day, highly customized process needed to make Ripple Dissolvable THC? "We need to take our five-day process and turn it into a five-hour process," Woelfel says. He'd also like to find a way to maintain product consistency while moving away from expensive, custom-built equipment.
Opportunities: Expanding into new products would be nice, but first Goldstein wants to reach more customers with Stillwater's current offerings. "The fastest growing segment of consumption is the elderly," he says. "There's a real opportunity to reach seniors who happen to be loyal brand advocates when they find a product they like."
Needs: Equipment. As the company scales, it aims to move away from customization while still maintaining tight quality control.